| The wreckage after the Bundelkhand Express mounted a stationary wagon at Datia, Madhya Pradesh. (AFP)
Datia (Madhya Pradesh), Oct. 3: An astounding human error could be behind the crash of a runaway train that killed as many as 18 people here this morning.
The apparent oversight ' which let the train proceed after an engine inspection without reconnecting the vital link that operates its braking system ' sent the Bundelkhand Express screaming past a station before it was diverted to another line that became a graveyard.
The express hurtled towards tragedy like in the film Cassandra Crossing where a luxury train is ordered to be driven over a dangerous bridge so that the passengers are killed to contain a deadly virus.
The Bundelkhand Express jumped tracks in an area where coaches are serviced and cleaned and rammed into a signal cabin.
Among the dead was the train’s driver, Ramzan Khan, who sent a May Day signal about the possibility of a mix-up minutes before the train started running amok.
Sources said the toll could double as many passengers were still trapped in the bogies and over 40 of the 100 injured were in a critical state. The train was travelling from Varanasi to Gwalior.
About 2.30 in the night, six-and-a-half hours before the crash, Ramzan Khan had spotted some engine trouble and sent a wireless message to Jhansi. When the express chugged into Jhansi at 7.15 this morning, an hour late, officials decided to change the engine.
As is the procedure, the vacuum brake system’s hose pipe could have been released, said an official who wanted to remain anonymous.
In between, another set of railway “fitters” repaired the engine, which ruled out the need for a replacement. What caused the crash was the failure of the two wings of Jhansi railway staff to communicate to each other the changed plan.
The train had travelled barely 20 km from Jhansi when the driver realised that the wagon and carriage staff had forgotten to fix the hose pipe that had been released. It meant the brakes would not work.
The brake’s vacuum system operates through the hose pipe. If the pipe is released or left loose, air rushes in and the vacuum is affected.
At 8.45, minutes before his death, Ramzan Khan managed to inform the authorities at Datia station about the failure of the brakes. The helpless officials in Datia could not do much, except to change tracks and divert the out-of-control train to the other line.
Six bogies were derailed, said inspector-general of police (law and order) A.K. Soni. Some had telescoped into the one ahead while others had risen skywards.
“The train’s speed limit was supposed to be 15 (kilometres per hour) but as far as I have been able to find out, it was going at 90 at the station,” said railway minister Laloo Prasad Yadav.
Among the dead was a woman whose head was severed. The rest of her body lay somewhere under the mass of twisted metal and concrete.
“We were able to find only the head of the lady,” said Radheshyam, one of the residents who joined the rescue efforts.
“I will never be able to forget the scene,” said an official.
A compensation of Rs 5,00,000 has been announced for relatives of each of the dead.